SHANGHAI, Aug 9 (Reuters) - China signaled further opening up of its financial services on Friday, saying it would let global asset managers apply for retail mutual-fund businesses through private fund units operating in the country.
Currently, 21 overseas financial institutions, among them Fidelity International, BlackRock and UBS Asset Management, have set up wholly owned subsidiaries in China. But they can sell only to high-net-worth and institutional clients. Mutual fund businesses can only be conducted through joint ventures.
The Asset Management Association of China (AMAC), an industry body supervised by China's securities regulator, said in a statement on Friday that it welcomes foreign private fund managers to apply for retail mutual fund businesses.
AMAC said the move is part of an effort by the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) to open up the country's capital markets. The association doesn't say when foreign asset managers can start submitting applications; it only promises to actively provide related services.
China is stepping up deregulation of its capital markets amid an escalating trade war with the United States. Last month, Premier Li Keqiang said Beijing will end ownership limits for foreign investors in its financial sector in 2020, a year earlier than scheduled.
The AMAC statement came days after JPMorgan's asset management unit increased its stake in its China mutual fund venture to 51%. Once the deal gets regulatory approval, JPMorgan would become the first foreign company to hold a majority stake in a Chinese mutual fund business.
But AMAC's gesture, which lacks details, "will potentially lead to more, not less uncertainty among global managers," said Peter Alexander, managing director of Shanghai-based fund consultancy Z-Ben Advisors.
The statement doesn't make clear if global asset managers can retain the private fund license while also applying for a retail mutual fund business, or they "need to pick one or the other."
AMAC, under CSRC's guidance, also announced several policies on Friday aimed at creating a level playing ground between foreign and local players.
Among the measures, AMAC will design English-language professional qualification tests for foreign executives and investment managers, so that "overseas professionals from renowned global fund managers such as Bridgewater and Winton Group can enter China," according to the statement. (Reporting by Samuel Shen and David Stanway, editing by Larry King)